The Essential Guide to Creating a Program Management Plan

“The Essential Guide to Creating a Program Management Plan” on Smartsheet, July 8, 2022.

What Should Be Included in a Program Management Plan?

  • Identification of Stakeholders: The program plan will identify and name the key stakeholders of the program — the people or groups that have an interest in the program’s success and will play a role in guiding it.

    “Who are the program’s stakeholders, and how will communications be managed?” asks Alan Zucker, Founding Principal at Project Management Essentials, LLC. “Similar to project management, program stakeholder engagement is critical to success. Stakeholders are identified (and) their needs are assessed.”

  • Program Structure: The program management plan will detail how the organization will handle the program and how leaders will work with program leaders. The plan also outlines how program leadership will interact with and oversee project leaders and other team members.“This includes the leadership and oversight layer — leadership or executive leadership committees — above the program manager, as well as the structure and relationship between the program manager and the project managers,” clarifies Zucker. “If the program is large enough to have a program management or execution office, the function and structure of that organization will also be described.” Learn more about the structure and work of a program management office.
  • Program Governance: Closely tied to program structure, governance provides more details on the how. The program management plan should set out the authority and responsibilities of various company or program team leaders. Governance may also decide how often leadership groups will meet and how to bring important issues to the appropriate leaders for decisions.
  • Program Execution: The plan will offer basic details on how the program will manage critical parts of the work.“Projects manage their execution, and the program needs to define how it will manage and coordinate items that impact the program, such as risk, change, interdependencies, and status reporting,” explains Zucker. “These elements are managed at both the project and program (level). This section describes what needs to be elevated to the program and how the program will address them.”
  • Communications Plan: The plan might also cover how program leaders and the team will perform and manage communications, such as the frequency and types of communications and who will provide it.Zucker also points out that the team understands the stakeholders’ information needs, “and a communications strategy is developed to support those needs.”

    Download a range of project communications plan templates. You can modify the templates for program management and customize them to fit your needs.

  • Benefits Realization: Any plan should also detail how to judge whether the program is successful. This section will identify possible benefits and whether those benefits are realized.“How are we going to measure, assess, and address the program’s success?” asks Zucker. “This section describes the key performance metrics established for the program.”

How Do You Write a Program Management Plan?

Writing a program management plan requires an assessment of the environment and stakeholder needs. You must gather input from those who will execute the program.

Before anything else, you need to understand the context and environment for the program. Has a previous program failed? What have been past issues with the work that the program will move forward? Are there budget issues?

“Every program is unique,” says Zucker. “To develop an effective program management plan, the program manager must understand the culture, operating environment, and constraints.”

Here are the steps for creating a program management plan:

1. Understand Key Stakeholders

You must have a good understanding of who are the key stakeholders for the program and what they hope it will accomplish.

“Meet with key stakeholders to understand their expectations of the program,” Zucker advises. “Remember, key stakeholders might include customers, organizational leaders, and project-level delivery partners.”

6. Adjust as Needed

A key function of having and monitoring checkpoints is to evaluate and understand when to make adjustments.

“One (goal) is to fail fast,” states Givens. “If something isn’t working, you have to change it. If an idea you tried didn’t work, it’s time to change and fail fast, and move to the next thing that can work — while working off of your accountabilities and responsibilities.”

“Adjust the plan as the program progresses,” says Zucker. “No plan is perfect. We need to assess and adjust the plan continually.”

Tips for Creating a Program Management Plan

  • Understand How to Balance Competing Interests: Many people inside and outside your organization may be involved in the program, including top organizational leaders, top project managers, and other important stakeholders. The program management plan must include a structure that helps program leaders deal with organizational politics and nuances.“Program management is not easy,” Zucker says. “It is like herding cats. Leaders and project managers may have competing interests and priorities. Project managers are often strong leaders in their domains. The program management plan needs to balance these competing interests, management styles, and needs.”